Author: Gene A. Bunin

“You have a health problem, but the ‘Chinese medicine’ won’t help you now – only ‘Kazakh medicine’ can.”

In May 2018, Qaisha Aqan – an ethnic Kazakh businesswoman from Xinjiang – fled the region and escaped to Kazakhstan, where she would remain illegally until finally going public in the September of this year. At the time of writing, she stands trial for illegally crossing the border and is simultaneously applying for asylum in Kazakhstan, a country that is yet to formally grant this status to any refugees from Xinjiang. What follows is her testimony from the first court session, held on November 12, 2019, in which she describes the circumstances that forced her to flee. I, Qaisha Aqan, was born on June 1, 1976 in Wusu City in China. My residential address is in Gongliu County, Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture. The reason why I crossed the border illegally is that I had previously bought tickets in Qorgas City for the bus to Kazakhstan three times, but each time would be among the 5-6 or 7-8 people who were not allowed to cross… [At this point, her lawyer asks her to start over, indicating …

“There was no learning at all.”

What follows is an abridged first-person account of Xinjiang camp eyewitness Nurlan Kokteubai, delivered at the office of the Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights organization on November 5, 2019. The summary and English translation were done by Kaster Bakyt. Gene A. Bunin did the English editing and smoothing. I was born and raised on the Akkoi stud farm in Chapchal County. From September 1979 to July 1997, I worked as a schoolteacher. I myself am a graduate of a vocational secondary school. In 2011, I came to Kazakhstan and obtained a Kazakhstan green card. My wife was also a teacher, but she’s retired now. Our children moved to Kazakhstan too and got Kazakh citizenship here. In July 2017, my wife was called to go to China, and then I went too since they summoned me as well. I went around August 20, 2017. Some days later – on September 3, 2017 – the village police called me to the police station. I thought that they were going to collect my passport, but when I got there they …

“Because you had to do it very quickly, or you could be punished.”

The following is a summary of the interview with Xinjiang camp eyewitness Tursunay Ziyawudun, done at the office of the Atajurt Kazakh Human Rights organization on October 15, 2019. The summary and English translation were done by Kaster Bakyt. Gene A. Bunin did the English editing. After falling ill, Tursunay went back to China in 2016 for a gall bladder operation. The Kazakh government wasn’t allowing her to stay in Kazakhstan any longer, as she was there on a visitor’s visa and hadn’t been able to get either a residence permit or Kazakhstan citizenship (as she was Uyghur and her husband, though ethnically Kazakh, wasn’t a Kazakhstan citizen yet). She had lived in Kazakhstan for a total of 5 years. Upon their arrival in China, both she and her husband had their passports taken by the local authorities. She was later sent to a “school” for a month. Four months later, her husband got his passport back, with Tursunay being his “guarantor” so that he could go back to Kazakhstan. She was taken to a …

From camps to prisons: Xinjiang’s next great human rights catastrophe

Just a little over a decade ago, the facility on 1327 Dongzhan Road, a few kilometers north of the forlorn freight station in the northern outskirts of Xinjiang’s Urumqi, was mostly trees and grass. On September 16, 2009, it officially became the new location of the Xinjiang Women’s Prison and of the Qixin Clothing Factory (run by “marketing specialist” Zong Liang, a Party member for whom prisons were his entire career). The move came on the heels of the infamous July 5 riots, and it wouldn’t be long before the new facility received what would become its first high-profile inmate – the writer, website moderator, and government employee Gulmire Imin. Convicted of “splittism, leaking state secrets, and organizing an illegal demonstration”, Imin was sentenced to life in a closed trial, despite alleged torture and lack of access to a lawyer. In the years that followed, the prison compound saw the construction of several new buildings, the continued operation of Qixin (together with the addition of another clothing company), and allegations of abuse, torture, and illegal …